Generating Light from Darkness

Night-time power generation analogous to photovoltaics would be an enabling capability for applications such as lighting and wireless sensors. We demonstrate a low-cost power generation device based on thermoelectric generators where the cold side radiates heat to the cold of space by facing the night sky. The power generated is sufficient to maintain a LED at night, enabling battery-free off-grid lighting. [Read more…]

Self-Sufficiency Defies Common Sense

Many dream of financial self-sufficiency, but only few are prepared to go as far as Lasse Nordlund. In the early 1990s, Nordlund began an experiment living as self-sufficiently as possible. Eventually, he was able to sustain himself and his family with a budget of mere 30 to 50 euros per year, living in a small town in North Karelia, located in Eastern Finland, growing and preparing everything else from scratch, all by himself.

Nordlund is exceptional due to the depth of his experiment. What is also exceptional are the swarm of comments on the 2008 Helsingin Sanomat article covering the self-sufficient practices of Nordlund and his family. In little over a week, the article gathered 451 comments. A civic debate on radical self-sufficiency larger than this is hard to come by. Nordlund saved these comments for later research. Our study based on this material was published in the Kulttuurintutkimus journal in 2017.

Image: Lasse Nordlund, by Marko Ulvila (CC BY-SA 4.0)

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A “Dacha” for Everyone? Community Gardens and Food Security in Russia

Russia’s large-scale peri-urban community agriculture has proven to be a very resilient food system. In this guest post, Arthur Grimonpont investigates the phenomenon and wonders if it could be reproduced in other industrial nations, for example in France.

Image: Dacha settlement, Kursk Oblast, by Petr Magera (CC BY 2.0).

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Low-Cost Breathing Ventilators

The high price of machine ventilators forces many hospitals in the poorest regions of the world to rely on a simple solution known as an Ambu Bag that requires constant manual pressure in order to get oxygen to the lungs.The Umbulizer is a mechanically powered version of the Ambu Bag.

More info & on-going efforts to design low-cost (incl. DIY/3d-printed) ventilators:

Food Security in the West

“It might seem alarmist, even tasteless, to mention food security in the West when we appear to be enjoying the greatest era of abundance in history. Food security is something we tend to associate with the developing world, and considering how many people worldwide face starvation every day, worrying about our own food supply seems almost obscene… On the face of it, the modern food industry seems to have solved the problem of food supply. Far from waiting anxiously at the quayside to see whether our ship will come in, there is now so much food swilling about in Western cities that most of us are more likely to die of obesity than hunger.”

“What could possibly go wrong? The short answer is: just about everything… Supermarkets supply us with 80 per cent of our food in Britain… Contrary to appearances, we live as much on a knife-edge now as did the inhabitants of ancient Rome or Ancien Régime Paris. Cities in the past did their best to keep stocks of grain in reserve in case of sudden attack; yet the efficiencies of modern food distribution mean that we keep very little in reserve. Much of the food you and I will be eating next week hasn’t even arrived in the country yet. Our food is delivered ‘just in time’ from all over the world: hardly the sort of system to withstand a sudden crisis.”

Quoted from: Hungry City: How Food Shapes our Lives. Carolyn Steel, 2013. Image: Packaged food aisles in an Oregonian hypermarket. Lyzadanger/Dilliff (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Making a Cooling Chamber for Tomatoes

When you pick your tomatoes, if you want to keep them longer, you have to find a way of reducing the temperature. As availability of electricity at village level can be a problem, ways have to be found to lower the temperature of this fragile crop. Some farmers at Dambatta in Kano State, Nigeria have used local mud bricks to make a very effective cooling chamber. Watch the video at AccessAgriculture. Via Practical Action.